Why you need to be stressed about stress

Have you ever had a stressed out colleague? Can you remember how you felt when he/she was “de-stressing”? In a previous job, I had a colleague who shouted at everyone like all the time. Then I was ignorant and couldn’t tell that she was stressed. I just wondered why she kept shouting and I really didn’t like working with her. The day she asked to be transferred was one of the happiest day of my life. Looking back, I realised that was her way of dealing with the stressful job.

The job involved working with young people. Anyone who works with them or has ever worked with them knows it can be a challenging job. We actually worked with teenage parents and most of them were going to court to try prevent their kids from being placed in foster care or adopted. We had to support most of them in court, provide evidence for or against them and worst of all, sometimes you had to witness their children been handed over to social services. This was not an easy thing to experience. The crying, wailing and screams of “don’t take my child” can be really stressful to witness.

How did I cope? Not too well at first. At first I didn’t realise I was taking my work home until I began to have sleepless nights worrying about one of my clients and even had a few dreams of her and her baby. It was only after I started dreaming about her I knew I had to distance myself, take things easy and stay as detached as possible. The client eventually was transferred to a different borough but it didn’t make me feel better. And life wasn’t about to get easier.

Another client moved in and luckily she wasn’t allocated to me but with her, the whole office was stressed. I developed severe chest pains and had to take a few weeks off work. I couldn’t drive my very manual car or do any exercise without my chest threatening to kill me. At one point I thought I was having a heart attack. I went to my doctor and was told I had low blood pressure (hypotension). This means that the pressure of blood circulating around my body was lower than normal. This was very surprising to me as I expected my blood pressure to be very high due to the amount of stress I was going through. All kinds of tests were performed, ECG, treadmill stress test  which involved them attaching electrodes to your chest, which are also attached to an ECG monitor that follows the electrical activity of your heart while I walked then ran on a treadmill. The result? I was hale and hearty. No heart troubles. No heart attacks. Nothing life threatening. Nobody could tell me what was wrong but after a couple of weeks of resting and not getting involved in the job (from home), the chest pain disappeared. There was no evidence that the stressful job caused my severe chest pain but taking time off work and just relaxing seemed to do the trick. I returned to work and about 2 months later, I left that job. Need I say more?

How were we supported? We never really complained to management or made it a big deal. We just got on with our job. To me it was part of the job but looking back, I wish we had the guts to make a big deal out of it.

So using my past (which I believe alot of people still have to go through today) and my current skills and knowledge, I have come up with simple ways organisations can support their employees and how employees can also help themselves.

Advice to organisations:

  1. Take care of our employees’ health and wellbeing. Invest in health and wellbeing programs and offer support. 

  2. Don’t just ask your staff how they feel during supervision so that your paperwork looks good. Care about how they feel; help and support them to feel better.

  3. Have a support network for your staff. They need a confidential support group they can rely on. Stress is a difficult thing to deal with and most people don’t want to admit it when they are stressed. If there is confidential support, they are more likely to use it. 🙂

  4. None of this will make sense or work if an organisation is not dedicated to ensuring the health and wellbeing of its employees.

Advice to individuals:

  1. Take care of your health and bring lots of energy and love to your life. How? Enjoy living. Do what you love doing best and what brings a smile to your heart. Get out more. Join a gym or for a cheaper option, go for a run in the park. Take a much needed break from work. 

  2. Challenge your brain. Do some reading. Take short courses or learn a new skill or find a new hobby (It doesn’t have to be related to your job). This works a great deal for me and makes me feel good.

  3. A problem shared is a problem “nearly” solved. Speak to a close friend, your partner, a relative or a complete stranger. You will be amazed at how better you will feel.

  4. Try not to take your work home with you. If possible, turn off your work mobile phone.

  5. Stop worrying. Remind yourself that worry doesn’t solve problems. It won’t change the problem neither will it make the problem go away. 

If you think of anything else you can add to this list or you have real life experience of why we need to be stressed about stress, please leave a comment. 

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